My licorice-flavored absinthe swirled as my friends enlightened me on the notoriety of Zürich’s Café Voltaire as the birthplace of Dadaism, an avant-garde art movement in the early 20th century embracing intuition, chaos, and irrationality. Staring at the jade drink, I felt that this was just one of the many facets Zürich revealed as an enlightened cosmopolitan city and ETH Zürich as a hub of intellectual enterprise. Immediately, I felt that I was welcomed as part of a very passionate and innovative team under Prof. Gambardella whose mentorship allowed me to move beyond the initial project. The experiences and memories I have made in such a stimulating place would have never been possible without the generosity of the Rice ECE Bybee Travel Award.
I was honored to work in Prof. Pietro Gambardella’s “Magnetism and Interface Physics” group in the Department of Materials at ETH Zürich. My research project focused on constructing a wide-field magneto-optical Kerr effect microscope to study magnetic reversal in thin structures. This method has gained increased attention due to the possibility to visualize field and current induced phenomena in nanostructured magnetic materials on fast time scales. My work was motivated by the beautiful magnetic domain images I was able to produce and analyze implementing the effect.
Beyond the extensive image processing, programming, and device development, the skills and techniques I learned and expanded upon this summer breathed new life into my passions for physics. At Rice, my current research in plasmonic nanostructures will be enriched by the knowledge I have gained at ETH Zürich.
While the Swiss-German dialect was challenging to adapt to, the people I interacted with were always happy to switch between languages in a friendly and open manner. While I was climbing through the picturesque snow-capped mountains, fellow hikers were always willing to share a laugh or story with me. Zürich, filled with relaxing parks bustling with diverse, active people, reflected its eco-friendly attitude that resonated with my conservationist beliefs.
The efficiency and preciseness of public transportation impressed me, but I loved the ability and ease to navigate Zürich with my bike. I often relaxed along the crystal clear rivers or biked through the lush green countryside with friends. While the Swiss lakes and rivers are visually calming, my first jump into the lake was an eye-opening experience: glacial lakes are freezing! The city exploded with life on the weekends, with many cultural events and festivals.
Travelling to Switzerland this summer was one of the most incredible events in my life. At the end of my stay, I felt I had truly become more than a mere tourist. Climbing the Matterhorn in Zermatt was on my list, but eating authentic homemade fondue in the Alps was something I never knew I needed to experience. Little things like enjoying the atmosphere of a riverside bar playing open-air psychedelic jazz are memories I will hold onto forever. When fireworks colored the nation’s skies during the Swiss National Day, I realized that Zürich had become a home to me.
My research at ETH was beyond fulfilling and the friends I made were always cheerful and engaging. I will miss Prof. Gambardella’s dynamic group and the Swiss chocolate dearly, but feel privileged to have been part of a cutting-edge research team. I will never forget the wonderful memories and life-long friends I made during this trip. This inspiring opportunity has become a major point in my life and I cannot express enough the gratitude I have for Rice ECE and Dr. Hal H. Bybee, Jr. for making it possible.